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Forum On Gun Violence Reflects Community’s Attitudes (Story and Video)
Local congressman, Newtown father address audience at Stephen Wise Free Synagogue.
Jewish Week Correspondent
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Leslie Gottlieb, a lay leader at New York’s Stephen Wise Free Synagogue, noted the obvious Monday night while speaking to a reporter:

Last month’s defeat of federal gun legislation depressed many Americans, she said, including members of the Jewish community.

But Gottlieb, a member of the congregation’s Social Action Committee, said she and others at the synagogue Monday felt rejuvenated after hearing from Mark Barden, the father of a Newtown, Conn., child murdered last December, and Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-Manhattan).

The two spoke to several hundred people at a forum organized by the committee, which chose to focus on the growing epidemic of gun violence even before the Dec. 14 massacre. The message that came across to her and other members of the audience was a simple one, Gottlieb said: There are still things that gun-control advocates can do.

(View video here; continue reading below.)


Nadler, a leading voice in Congress on gun control, expressed outrage over the Senate’s action last month, saying that the National Rifle Association and other gun-related groups lied and used fear for leverage in the debate. The Senate acted to back the firearms industry rather than to protect American citizens, he added.

“We’re now at a moment of regrouping and reassessing,” Nadler continued, referring to advocates of federal gun legislation.

But Nadler also offered hope to an audience that clearly shared his views.

The “broad center” of the American public “will now engage” with the issue, just as they did in the 1990s, when Congress passed the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act and approved a ban on assault weapons, he said. He urged his listeners to look at recent polling numbers for U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.), whose push to expand background checks has earned him the highest approval rating since he took office in 2011, and U.S. Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.), whose popularity has dipped 15 points since her vote against background checks.

Among the measures that need to be “vigorously pushed,” Nadler said, are a ban on assault weapons, the adoption of universal background checks and a bill to stop the online purchase of ammunition. “Our job now,” he added, is to continue to educate friends, neighbors and colleagues about common-sense measures that would reduce gun violence.

Following Nadler to the podium, Barden spoke softly and movingly about his 7-year-old son Daniel, one of the 20 children who died at the Sandy Hook Elementary School. As he did so, he often seemed on the verge of tears.

Daniel was a “light” to all those who knew him, said Barden, who has two other children, an older son and an older daughter. He was the sort of child who would see another youngster sitting alone and go over to talk to that kid, the father said, adding that Daniel “was always comforting others.”

Daniel’s compassion recently led one of Barden’s nieces to ask herself, “What would Daniel do?” on seeing one of her classmates look isolated and forlorn, Barden said. The answer was obvious, he added, and the niece approached her classmate to soothe him, an action the classmate later reported was of tremendous help. The story prompted the niece’s mother to create a Facebook page with the same question: “What Would Daniel Do?”

A musician, Barden said he was never an overtly political person, but that that’s changing in the wake of Sandy Hook. He and other Newtown families came together the day after the massacre to form the Sandy Hook Promise, a group devoted to addressing the issue of gun violence, he said. Members of the group went to Washington last month to lobby for gun legislation and later, after the measure’s defeat, Barden introduced President Barack Obama at a White House press conference.

None of the group’s members “signed up for this,” Barden said, adding that concern over the issue “isn’t about being a Democrat or being a Republican — it’s about being human.”

(Article continues after discussion below.)

Both Nadler and Barden assured their listeners during a question-and-answer period that they could influence the outcome of the debate, even as residents of a city in which their elected representatives hold the same views they do. They can donate to groups involved in the issue, such as the Sandy Hook Promise, New Yorkers Against Gun Violence and One Million Moms for Gun Control, Nadler said. They could also donate to like-minded politicians or volunteer for their campaigns.

At Stephen Wise, the Social Action Committee works with these and others, Gottlieb said. She added that the committee would also welcome the opportunity to work on the issue with other houses of worship, including synagogues, churches and mosques.

Barden told The Jewish Week that Monday’s appearance marked the first time he has spoken at any house of worship and that he felt honored to do so. His appearance was arranged by Sandy Hook Promise after the Social Action Committee contacted the group, requesting one of the Newtown parents.

“I wanted to inspire our members to act,” said Eileen Remor, the go-between, “and I thought that hearing from a family member would achieve that.”

The sentiments expressed at the synagogue seemed to reflect those of the broader Jewish community. On the day after the Newtown massacre, for instance, member organizations of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs — the public-affairs arm of the American-Jewish community — reached a consensus over gun control in a matter of hours, not days, The Jewish Week reported in December. Ethan Felson, the organization’s vice president and director of domestic concerns, said that’s the first time he’s witnessed such consensus in his more than two decades at JCPA.

But other members of the community, including the Wisconsin-based Jews for the Preservation of Firearms Ownership, hold different views. Charles Heller, the group’s director, told The Jewish Week in December that his organization was flooded with calls since the Newtown shooting from people who were worried about gun legislation. He said at the time that a ban on assault weapons would have no effect on violence, citing studies that back that view.

Rabbi Ammiel Hirsch, the senior rabbi at Stephen Wise, said in an interview that gun advocates who speak of freedom or liberty are raising a bogus issue.

“It’s a question of the preservation of human life and the dignity of every human being,” the rabbi said. “There’s no higher value in Judaism” than those two beliefs.

Last Update:

09/27/2013 - 08:00
Forum, gun violence, Stephen Free Wise Synagogue
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Why do we keep running from these shooters? One guy shows up with a gun and hundreds of us run away? Why don't we attack the bugger and be done with it? You might say I'm crazy, but it actually makes all the sense in the world! Read Fight, Flight, or Hide by John Forsythe and you'll see what I mean. We've got to turn the tide here!

Even the authors of this legislation admit it would NOT have prevented the Newtown tragedy. The debate and legislation should be about CRIME control, not gun control. That we can all agree on. Enforcing and prosecuting those who break the 20,000+ gun laws in the US should be the goal, not just passing another unenforced law so the politicians can pat themselves on the back.

Jewish law and tradition --which Rabbi Hirsch, as a Reform Rabbi, does not recognize as binding -- clearly does impose an obligation on us to preserve and to protect life. If one chooses to own a gun, one is required to do so responsibly. It does not follow, however, that Jewish law and tradition prohibits or even discourages firearms ownership. We not only have an obligation to preserve life, but also to defend life -- our own and the lives of others. A firearm, in the hands of responsible people, is the best tool available to defend life when faced with a deadly threat. And no, a cell phone and 911 are not effective self-defense tools.

So please, stop the politicized nonsense and propaganda. Yes, background checks are a good idea as long as they don't impose impediments to the ownership of firearms by law abiding people. However, bans of commonly owned and useful firearms -- including those falsely labeled "assault weapons" -- are pointless and counterproductive and will only impede progress in improving public safety.

one correction to make in your article if you will... One Million Moms has a new name We are now Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America. Thank you.

Rabbi Hirsch claims that civil rights advocates who "speak of freedom or liberty are raising a bogus issue." He then goes on to state that "[i]t's a question of the preservation of human life and the dignity of every human being."

Who's life is Rabbi Hirsch concerned about?

Firearms are used in excess of 200.000 times a year to defend people - often without a shot being fired (National Institute of Justice study). Are the lives of these 200,000 people not valuable? Is not their preservation and dignity important?

I think you are taking part of this statement out of context. The idea to have universal background checks allows law abiding citizens to have arms with which to defend themselves but also attempts to limit sales to criminals. This keeps everyone safer.

Background checks are not the goal of Obama and his supporters - it is assault weapons ban, limiting the size of magazines and as restrictive confiscation policies as possible. Wake up! Parts of the US guns laws have been taken verbatim from the Nazi gun laws of the 30s. That is Emet. Study your history.

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